As the American Trail Running Association’s (ATRA) designated “Trail Trotter,” I have had many wonderful experiences in 2021 traveling to events and connecting further with people doing amazing things in our trail running community. In spite of ongoing challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, the trail running community has become closer, stronger and more resilient than ever. In this article, I take a look back at five of my most memorable stories from 2021 and how they capture ATRA’s 2021 theme of “resilience.”
Number 5 – Nicholas Turco
Nicholas Turco Making Strides For LGBTQ Inclusion in Trail Running + Founding of The Colorado Athletics Visibility Award
Twenty-three-year-old trail runner Nicholas Turco has come a long way in a year as both an athlete and LGBTQ+ rights activist. In February 2021, I interviewed Turco about his senior research project at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), which explored the sports climate for LGBTQ+ student-athletes competing in the NCAA. Fast forward nine months to our second interview and Turco had not only successfully completed his research project but was inspired to go a step further by founding the Colorado Athletics Visibility Award, the first-ever fully endowed scholarship “to provide full-tuition scholarships to NCAA LGBTQ+ athletes and athlete allies who will advance visibility, innovation, and inclusive excellence for LGBTQ+ people in sports and through the medium of sports at CU, nationally and globally.”
Turco also aspires to become a professional trail runner and he raced for the first time in Europe this past summer at the Mont Blanc Marathon where he was the top American in a highly competitive field. Turco’s story is a great reminder of how to be resilient in the face of social and political constructs that hold back underrepresented groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, from joining us on the trails. Turco shows us we can do more than talk about these important topics, but actively do something and make change.
Number 4 – Alex Nichols
Appreciating Resilience From The Eternal “Dark Horse” Alex Nichols
Elite ultramarathon runner Alex Nichols is not often the center of attention, yet he never fails to consistently achieve outstanding trail running feats. In February 2020, I had the honor to join Nichols and his close training partner Brandon Stapanowich, on a winter ascent of Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain,” as a part of Nichols “Pikes Peak Streak.” As of December 2021, Nichols has reached the top of Pikes Peak (14,115) feet once every month for the past fifty months in a row. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Nichols both before and after his goal race for the season, The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
In my experiences with Nichols on Pikes Peak and at Western States, I gained great respect for the way Nichols handles adversity. His positive attitude and long-term approach to challenges are some of the reasons he has remained consistently successful in the elite trail running world. In 2021, Nichols had one of his best training seasons ever and even if his Western States 100 experience did not go completely as expected, he was able manage his low points and still hang on for a top ten finish. Following the race, he kept his focus on learning from his mistakes so he can run even better at his next 100-mile race.
Number 3 – Past Greats
Gaining Inspiration From The Greats of The Past
I often find myself inspired to be a part of the trail running community because of the amazing feats athletes have accomplished in our sport. During the past year, I brainstormed and researched top athletes and achievements in American trail running history, which eventually turned into my article on the Top Five Achievements in American Trail Running History. Researching and learning about legends such as Ann Trason, Matt Carpenter and Pablo Vigil and how they pushed the limits of our sport gave me a better appreciation for what is possible and made me proud to call myself a trail runner. In hard times, sometimes what we need is a little inspiration from amazing athletes whose passion for this sport will remain with us for generations to come.
Number 2 – Statesmas
The Best Ultrarunners in The World Rise To The Challenge At Western States
Without a doubt “Statesmas” is one of the most exciting times on any trail runner’s calendar year. Many of the top American and international ultramarathon trail runners “show-down” each year at The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. For this one weekend in late June, the trail running community eagerly awaits the exciting stories and results from this event. I am grateful to have been a part of the American Trail Running Association’s media crew that covered this year’s race.
This year’s Western States was one of the most exciting to date, with a highly competitive womens’ field and hot conditions leading to “carnage” among several of the race favorites in the mens’ race. For the first time in the 47-year history of the event, three women placed in the top ten overall and nine women placed in the top twenty. In a time when female athletes are not always respected for the incredible athletes they are, Western States was a reminder of just how exceptional the top women in our sport truly are. In spite of the tough conditions and extreme challenge of running 100 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and rugged Auburn, California foothills, these women kept their pace and ran stride-for-stride with the men.
Number 1 – Native American Trail Running
The Native American Trail Running Community Holds Strong and Preserves Tradition
One of the most underrepresented groups in trail running by far are the Native American population. The history of our trails and land we recreate and run on was once occupied by Native peoples and we as trail runners should give more respect to Native perspectives on land use. In the past year, I connected with three individuals who are making changes to inspire more Native Americans to trail run and preserve Native traditions.
All three individuals, Christian Gering, Sheldon Subith and Megan DeHaan demonstrate resilience in the face of challenges in their various roles as athletes, community leaders, artists and race directors and are able to preserve and honor Native American values. Read about each of their stories in my interviews with them at the above hyperlinks.